MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from roads to rails. We've been following the back and forth debate over Metro's Silver Line. That's the one that will zoom riders out to Dulles Airport and beyond into Loudoun County. The next phase of this massive rail project is supposed to start next year. But squabbles over funding and union labor have left everything up in the air. And that's the subject of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority or MWAA made a key decision this week to move forward on phase two of the Silver Line. But Loudoun County is still on the fence and transportation Martin Di Caro is here to explain all the details. Hi, Martin.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
Okay. So, Martin, MWAA voted on a pretty contentious issue on Wednesday. What happened?
MWAA killed the PLA.
Okay. Remind us what a PLA is.
All right. So PLA is a project labor agreement. It's a piece of paper that addresses working conditions. And as we've reported contractors would have received a significant bonus in the bidding process for choosing to enter to a PLA with union construction workers. But by an 11 to 1 vote, the MWAA board bowed to political pressure here and they dropped this pro-labor preference from the plan for phase two of the Silver Line.
And no doubt there was a lot of, you know, politicking on this issue.
Yeah, the politics from the McDonnell administration and Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly oppose the PLA. Virginia is a Right to Work state. Most of its workers are non-union. So, Virginia would have withdrawn its $150 million in funding. Loudoun County would have backed out of its $270 million commitment and MWAA stuck with the PLA preference. MWAA board chairman Michael Curto says he recognized this reality before the vote.
MR. MICHAEL CURTO
I am going to vote in favor of removing the PLA incentive. I'm going to do so without asking for any conditions. I think it's important that we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish encourage their participation. It's critical to the success of the project.
Okay. So does that end the dispute then?
Well, Virginia's Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton tells us Virginia is in, but Loudoun County is another matter.
Why is that?
All nine members of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors are Republicans. They all oppose the PLA, but they're divided over how their county should fund the project. Supervisors from eastern districts where the rail line will be built had different ideas than representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver Line. And it's just a big commitment anyway.
For instance, the future Dulles Airport stop has an operating subsidy associated with it that Loudoun is going to have to pay about $5 to $7 million per year even Loudoun residents are not expected to use that stop.
So was all the controversy even necessary then?
MWAA board member, Dennis Martire, was a big supporter of the PLA. He's a labor union official. But in the end, even he voted against it because, his words, the contractor that eventually submits the winning bid is likely to enter into a PLA on its own anyway, as was the case of Dulles Rail phase one. So I asked him, then why did MWAA make a big deal over the union labor anyway?
MR. DENNIS MARTIRE
It was only important because phase one has proven to be very successful saving the project money. And as fiduciaries of the project, that's our goal. We have to save the project money so the tolls remain low. If we do something that's not going to keep tolls low, we're not doing a service to the public and those people that drive the toll road every day.
Okay. So speaking of people who drive the toll road every day, how are they affected by all this?
Well, drivers of the Dulles toll road may not be very happy. For the next two years, tolls would have risen dramatically had Virginia pulled out of phase two. But over the long term, tolls are still a real concern. The Residents and Citizens Association which represents 58,000 residents of Fairfax County says a regular commuter now pays less than $1,000 a year in tolls. We'll see that cost rise more than $8,000 per year in 2048 or more than $3,000 per year by 2028 in today's dollars.
In other words, tolls are going up a lot. The association says three quarters of the cost of phase two and the rail lines construction will be born by the 100,000 users of the Dulles toll road.
Well, Martin, thank you so much for this update and the battle over the Silver Line.
You're welcome, Rebecca.
Martin Di Caro is WAMU's transportation reporter. Do you have an opinion about the pros and cons of the Silver Line project? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
After the break, a legendary conductor prepares to lift his baton and perform his swan song.
MR. NORMAN SCRIBNER
We're all a community of music lovers here in service to the same goal and have been for decades. And hopefully it will go on for decades.
Plus, a college student body president goes through a life-changing transition.
MS. SARAH MCBRIDE
My dad said a few months ago, I have to be honest, I don't feel like I'm losing a son, I feel like I'm gaining a daughter.
That and more coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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